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Finding a home for MeesPierson

MeesPierson never sat happily within ABN Amro, and nobody was surprised when the venerable Dutch merchant bank was put up for sale last year. Now new owner Fortis faces the challenge of accommodating the bank - and motivating its restless managers before the current trickle of departures turns into a flood. Antony Currie reports.

If you trace its history back far enough you can date the founding of MeesPierson to 1720. It was then that Gregorius Mees joined an Amsterdam banking house, which in 1786 was renamed R Mees Zoonen after his son Rudolf.

Today's MeesPierson is the result of several mergers and acquisitions in Dutch banking over the past 30 years. Its present name dates to 1993 when Bank Mees and Hope, and Pierson Heldring and Pierson were brought together by their parent banks which a year and a half earlier had merged as ABN Amro.

It was not to prosper under this new format. For one thing, the Mees half of the equation came saddled with bad debt. But it was ABN Amro's decision to press ahead with expanding its own capital-markets division, independent of its newly merged subsidiary, which put MeesPierson in the shade.

As the two increasingly competed for deals, the political battles between MeesPierson and its parent intensified. Feeling permanently marginalized, MeesPierson's executives believed their only viable options were to gain outright independence or to be sold off. In October last year they were to get the latter: ABN Amro agreed to sell its ill-fitting merchant bank to Fortis, the Dutch-Belgian bancassurance group, but not before raiding some of the key people in corporate banking and asset management.

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